Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 23, 2013

Most who sneak peak at Clinch Park like it

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The curious wandered through the not-quite finished Clinch Park while Rick Alpers watched, waiting for his last concrete pour to set footprint-free as the sun began its daily descent.

Alpers, who works for general contractor Hallmark Construction, has worked seven days a week for the last month to help prepare the park for its grand reopening on Tuesday at 11 a.m. The $2.9 million project will finish within its budget, despite delays owed to a late spring and rainy April.

No worries, Hallmark President Dennis Fedorinchik said. Tuesday's a go for the opener. Alpers almost can't believe crews will make it in under the deadline wire.

"It's amazing, because if you asked me two weeks ago I'd have said we'd never make it," Alpers said. "It's been a good job, a lot of interesting things."

Alpers noted the exacting specifications of sidewalk slopes designed to ensure every inch met American with Disabilities Act specifications, and the 219 drill bits it took to create 220 holes in stainless steel pipes that will create rain at a splash pad that's to be lit by LED lights powered by a wind turbine.

"To see what it came from to where it is now ... I like the place and I'm going to spend some time down here," Alpers said.

Traverse City planner Russ Soyring shepherded the bayfront project through city bureaucracy since its start as a concept in 2004. He visits the work site every day and said what most impresses him is the care and quality of the work, as well as the people carrying out the tasks.

"They are a key part of this and they are the ones making sure it is a high-quality park, not people like me who push paper around all day," Soyring said.

'Cool' but misses zoo

Several curious onlookers wandered through the park one evening last week or observed it from the fringes as crews toiled. Visitors offered mixed reactions.

"The park will be cool, but what I wanted was the old zoo," said Katie Scott, a Traverse City native who now lives in Illinois. "I grew up with the zoo and I miss it."

But Scott liked a new park pavilion near the beach, especially the new bathrooms.

"The old ones were kind of gross," she said. "So I'm excited about that."

Architectural drawings of the pavilion drew criticism from some in the community for its randomly spaced wood boards, but sneak peekers last week appeared to admire the structure.

"The park looks really nice, and I like the style of the building," said Erik Martinez of East Lansing, who made his first trip to Traverse City with his family.

Larry and Kathy Swartz of Manton agreed.

"Before, it seemed so congested and it seems more open now," Larry Swartz said. "It's nice to see it updated. It makes it more enjoyable to come back through here."

Changes to the tunnel under Grandview Parkway -- an effort to to make it more bright and open -- impressed the couple.

"Before, it was kind of scary," Kathy Swartz said.

Nick Wyskochil of Kingsley called the pavilion and park reconstruction nice, but "overkill.

"I felt the zoo was more of an attraction and felt they should have kept the train," Wyskochil said as he sat on one of the Lake Superior limestone blocks that comprise a terraced decline from the Pavilion to the bay.

Donors, foundations step up

Exciting or overkill, the public's reaction to the park may play a sizable role on how, or if, additional development spreads across remainder of the city's waterfront.

The city began the Your Bay, Your Say study and public input process in 2004, and the result was an estimated $26 million worth of improvements.

Cecil McNally, who chaired the Your Bay, Your Say steering committee, said it's "fabulous" to see project results implemented, rather than gathering dust on a shelf.

"Things aren't exactly the way it looked then, but I think the things people wanted to see are happening there," McNally said. "Once the community gets to see it and enjoy it, I hope it will be the impetus to get the rest of it done."

Finding money to complete the project emerged as a holdup, but in 2011 a group of area foundations and major donors that had met annually for a decade decided to get behind one significant project. Foundation leaders and donors chose Clinch Park. They pledged over $260,000, which the city leveraged to help obtain other state and federal grants, plus a $1 million commitment from Traverse City Light & Power.

The Clinch Park benefactor group hasn't taken on a major project since committing to that plan.

"We're kind of waiting to see how this one comes out and if it's a good use of our resources," said Doug Luciani, president and CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.

Luciani monitored the project with a bird's eye view from his office window that overlooks the park.

"We look at it all the time," Luciani said. "The design is not going to please everybody, but I think it's cool, the whole concept is cool."